Democracy: Irish style
The government jet was placed at the disposal of a government minister so he could vote in the Dail against holding three by-elections and then take a late-night flight to Brussels.
The €9,000 flight for junior minister Dara Calleary was sanctioned by the Department of the Taoiseach amid confusion over pairing arrangements for TDs, at the end of September.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny had called for the issuing of writs in three by-elections for the vacant seats in Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal South-West on Wednesday, 29 September.
The government, including Dara Calleary, voted against the proposal and any plan to actually hold these elections – and allow voters the chance to exercise their democratic right – has been put back until at least next year.
Calleary said that he had been left with no alternative but to use the government jet as he was standing in for Brian Lenihan in Brussels early on Thursday morning for a meeting.
He said commercial flights were not an option because of concerns over pairing arrangements in the Dail. He said: “We could not [fly that way] because of the situation with the pairs. You don’t know what votes are going to be called and there could have been votes again on the Thursday.”
“I don’t pick the jet,” he said. “I can’t say that I want one. It arose because of the situation regarding pairs and at one stage, I wasn’t even sure if I was paired for Thursday. There could have been a vote on anything. If I had a pair, we would have chosen a commercial flight.”
Calleary’s flight on board the government jet had already caused him a little bit of local embarrassment as it was spotted flying into Knock Airport. Read about that in the Mayo News.
After flying to Brussels following the Dail vote, it was then used to bring Calleary back to Co Mayo on 1 October. The flying time was 190 minutes and with the hourly rate for the Learjet estimated at €2,900, the cost of the flight came to €9,164.
Asked about the trip by the Western People, Calleary seemed at pains to point out that he had only used the “smaller one” of the government’s two jets.
However, what he neglected to mention was that he had also used the “bigger one” (the Gulfstream IV) the same week to fly back and forth to Brussels on Monday, 27 September. That journey, which lasted 190 minutes as well, ended up costing the taxpayer close to €25,000 and it also stopped off in Knock, Co Mayo.
Dara Calleary said it would not have been possible for him to have spent the week in Brussels and that the combined government jet bill of €34,000 was necessary. The Junior Minister had attended an EU meeting on high-level financial reform from 6pm to 10pm that Monday and had another important launch in Dublin on Tuesday, he said.
For those with an interest in these types of things, I’m posting the Ministerial Air Transport Service log book for the year so far.
It lists all flights on the €2,900-an-hour Learjet and the €7,890 Gulfstream and also details the now infrequent flights that take place on Air Corps choppers.
If anybody spots any other curious flights, feel free to let me know. And feel free to buy my new book Snouts in the Trough, which is in shops and available online here